Please excuse the formatting– WordPress, geez! You can access all the past editions of The Daily Planet on the green Category bar on the top of each page under the heading PlanetPOV.
As 2010 drew to a close, the mayor of Newark, N.J., was staring into a budget abyss so deep that he sold 16 city buildings to pay the bills. They included the architecturally significant Newark Symphony Hall and the police and fire headquarters.
In New York, the transit authority may sell its Madison Avenue headquarters, complete with an underground tunnel connected to Grand Central Terminal and air rights to build a skyscraper on top.
And soon, if state legislators have their way, private investors will be able to buy plenty of other municipal treasures: power plants in Wisconsin, prisons in Louisiana and Ohio and municipal buildings in Boston.
The Great Government Tag Sale is on. As states and cities struggle with billions of dollars in shortfalls, elected officials are increasingly selling public assets to cover their costs. Sometimes municipalities sell the buildings to pocket a one-time pile of cash and then lease them back so they can continue to use them.
To proponents, selling government property is an efficient way to plug budget holes. That’s one reason the Obama administration has looked at unloading office towers, courthouses, warehouses and shacks. Private owners who develop the properties can inject vibrancy into municipal dead zones, the thinking goes. Buildings that were once exempt from property taxes are put back on the rolls.
But to critics, these sales are as misguided as pulling money out of your house to pay your bills. They point out that the government is letting go of a long-term, valuable asset in exchange for a one-time payment. When the asset is a building, a municipality then has to spend more money on leasing it back or renting another facility.
“This is tantamount to selling the family china only to have to rent it back in order to eat dinner,” says economist Yves Smith, author of the top-rated business blog Naked Capitalism.
The Desperate States of America, yes. But in some cases, politics is influencing policy. Selling state assets has long been a part of the conservative playbook, which calls for moving some of the traditional functions of government to the private sector. And in other instances, the deals are shaded by accusations of corruption.
In Wisconsin, the center of the state budget battles, legislators lobbied for the budget repair bill to allow politicians to sell any state-owned heating, cooling or power plant to anyone for any price at any time — without public approval or a call for bids.
Critics of Republican Gov. Scott Walker charged that Koch Industries, an energy conglomerate that made a $43,000 donation to his campaign, the biggest from any corporation, might stand to benefit. Koch’s head of government affairs, Philip Ellender, says the company was never interested in buying a state-owned power plant.
The provision was removed from the budget bill just before it passed. But it is expected to be taken up again later this year.
In many ways, it’s the perfect time to market these deals as do-or-die propositions. Elected officials across the country say the ravages of the Great Recession have given them no choice, as evidenced by the escalating conflict between governments and the unions representing their employees.
Local and state governments made promises about their retirement benefits but often failed to set aside the money to make good on those promises. Now those governments say they simply can’t afford them. Illinois’ pension fund, for example, is only 45 percent paid for. Actuaries recommend 80 percent.
Years of wishful budgeting and fiscal gimmickry have finally caught up. The states’ “ridiculous” budget and pension accounting would “make Enron blush,” as Microsoft founder Bill Gates recently put it. For fiscal 2012, states face a $125 billion shortfall, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.
Elected leaders have already raided road-repair budgets and borrowed from emergency-service coffers. They’ve nabbed citizens’ unclaimed checking account cash and sold future proceeds from lotteries. Detroit and Omaha just reduced the pensions of the police.
Now that other options have been exhausted, officials say that to avoid mammoth tax hikes — or any tax hikes, in some cases — they have no choice but to sell municipal assets.
In Newark, last year’s $80 million budget deficit was the worst crisis of Mayor Cory Booker’s career. He had already enacted what critics called savage cuts, from police officers to toilet paper. Booker’s choices were a monstrous tax hike or selling the Brick City’s bricks in exchange for $74 million. Newark will lease back the buildings for 20 years from their buyer, a public agency called the Essex County Improvement Authority, for a total cost of $125 million. “I would rather not have done it. I would rather have done something different,” Booker says. “But it was done to meet the urgencies of the budget crisis.”
Often, the public balks at these deals. In Britain last year, people practically took up pitchforks when the government, as a part of its austerity cure, announced plans to sell Sherwood Forest. The environment secretary backed off. “This is the second worst thing a government can do,” says Jay Powell, a fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Institute. “The worst thing they can do is run out of money.”
In the U.S., taxpayers screamed when New Jersey and Pennsylvania attempted to sell their turnpikes. Fresh in their minds were other deals that have ended in disaster.
In 2008, for example, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley auctioned off the city’s 36,000 parking meters to a private investment group that included Morgan Stanley, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority and the German-based insurance giant Allianz. Daley did it to balance the budget. The deal may cost Chicago drivers at least $11.6 billion over the next 75 years, 10 times what the system was sold for, according to Bloomberg News. Since the deal went through, Morgan Stanley has raised parking fees 42 percent. It now plans on stuffing more cars into fewer metered spaces by getting rid of marking lines, raising the number of metered slots and expanding the hours that require fees.
City auditors dubbed the parking deal “dubious” because the city’s chief financial officer didn’t calculate how much the system would be worth to the city over the long term. Despite the controversy in Chicago, New York is exploring private options for its parking spaces.
Not everyone is joining the fire-sale fray. In February, California’s newly elected Gov. Jerry Brown torched a deal struck by his predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, to sell 24 state buildings, including the San Francisco Civic Center and the Department of Education, for $2.3 billion. It was hugely unpopular, especially after The Associated Press reported that it would have cost the state $5.2 billion in rent over 20 years — the equivalent of a long-term loan at 10 percent interest. Brown is now proposing to cover the gap with short-term loans.
Meanwhile, the budget collapses are so dire that some local pols are joking — or seriously wondering — whether they should legalize marijuana, rubdown parlors or brothels. Ohio is currently accepting bids from private operators for five prisons. The state might also charge inmates for electricity. In New York City, real estate agents are eagerly awaiting news about which buildings — in the hipster haven of lower Manhattan — the Bloomberg administration will unload as a part of its real-estate downsizing plan.
And in Naperville, Ill., the City Council is debating whether to give corporations the right to splash their logos on city property.
One proposed municipal sponsorship deal would enable Kentucky Fried Chicken to repair potholes and then advertise on them: “This pothole repair brought to you by Kentucky Fried Chicken.”
CA Legislative Analyst Wants to Give High Speed Rail the Scott Walker Treatment
The Legislative Analyst’s Office is out with another report that attacks the California high speed rail project. Rather than work to find the best way to ensure it gets built, the LAO appears to be throwing in their lot with the emerging anti-HSR strategy coming from Senators Alan Lowenthal and Joe Simitian. The report suggests that California delay the HSR project even at the risk of losing $4 billion in federal funds already awarded to the project. It suggests that the Central Valley not be the first segment constructed, and suggests that the project be placed under the authority of Caltrans – even though as the LAO admits, Caltrans has no experience with this kind of work. The LAO makes some other recommendations too, of varying degrees of value, but the headline suggestion – that HSR be essentially put on ice – is a slap in the face to California voters, who support this project and expect it to be built as quickly as possible.
This has to be one of the funniest political stories of recent weeks: On Tuesday, 42 freshmen Republican members of Congress sent a letter urging President Obama to stop Democrats from engaging in “Mediscare” tactics — that is, to stop saying that the Republican budget plan released early last month, which would end Medicare as we know it, is a plan to end Medicare as we know it.
Now, you may recall that the people who signed that letter got their current jobs largely by engaging in “Mediscare” tactics of their own. And bear in mind that what Democrats are saying now is entirely true, while what Republicans were saying last year was completely false. Death panels!
Well, it’s time, said the signatories, to “wipe the slate clean.” How very convenient — and how very pathetic.
Anyway, the truth is that older Americans really should fear Republican budget ideas — and not just because of that plan to dismantle Medicare. Given the realities of the federal budget, a party insisting that tax increases of any kind are off the table — as John Boehner, the speaker of the House, says they are — is, necessarily, a party demanding savage cuts in programs that serve older Americans.
To explain why, let me answer a rhetorical question posed by Professor John Taylor of Stanford University in a recent op-ed article in The Wall Street Journal. He asked, “If government agencies and programs functioned with 19% to 20% of G.D.P. in 2007” — that is, just before the Great Recession — “why is it so hard for them to function with that percentage in 2021?”
Mr. Taylor thought he was making the case for not increasing spending. But if you know anything about the federal budget, you know that there’s a very good answer to his question — an answer that clearly demonstrates just how extremist that no-tax-increase pledge really is. For here’s the quick-and-dirty summary of what the federal government does: It’s a giant insurance company, mainly serving older people, that also has an army.
The great bulk of federal spending that isn’t either defense-related or interest on the debt goes to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. The first two programs specifically serve seniors. And while Medicaid is often thought of as a poverty program, these days it’s largely about providing nursing care, with about two-thirds of its spending now going to the elderly and/or disabled. By my rough count, in 2007, seniors accounted, one way or another, for about half of federal spending.
And in case you hadn’t noticed, there will soon be a lot more seniors around because the baby boomers have started reaching retirement age.
Here are the numbers: In 2007, there were 20.9 Americans 65 and older for every 100 Americans between the ages of 20 and 64 — that is, the people of normal working age who essentially provide the tax base that supports federal spending. The Social Security Administration expects that number to rise to 27.5 by 2020, and 31.7 by 2025. That’s a lot more people relying on federal social insurance programs.
Nor is demography the whole story. Over the long term, health care spending has consistently grown faster than the economy, raising the costs of Medicare and Medicaid as a share of G.D.P. Cost-control measures — the very kind of measures Republicans demonized last year, with their cries of death panels — can help slow the rise, but few experts believe that we can avoid some “excess cost growth” over the next decade.
Between an aging population and rising health costs, then, preserving anything like the programs for seniors we now have will require a significant increase in spending on these programs as a percentage of G.D.P. And unless we offset that rise with drastic cuts in defense spending — which Republicans, needless to say, oppose — this means a substantial rise in overall spending, which we can afford only if taxes rise.
So when people like Mr. Boehner reject out of hand any increase in taxes, they are, in effect, declaring that they won’t preserve programs benefiting older Americans in anything like their current form. It’s just a matter of arithmetic.
Which brings me back to those Republican freshmen. Last year, older voters, who split their vote almost evenly between the parties in 2008, swung overwhelmingly to the G.O.P., as Republicans posed successfully as defenders of Medicare. Now Democrats are pointing out that the G.O.P., far from defending Medicare, is actually trying to dismantle the program. So you can see why those Republican freshmen are nervous.
But the Democrats aren’t engaging in scare tactics, they’re simply telling the truth. Policy details aside, the G.O.P.’s rigid anti-tax position also makes it, necessarily, the enemy of the senior-oriented programs that account for much of federal spending. And that’s something voters ought to know.
So, why would a school for pregnant girls and teen moms with a 97 percent average daily attendance rate and a 100 percent college acceptance rate be slated to either close or turn into a privately run, nonunion charter? CFA is just one of more than 50 Detroit Public Schools on Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb’s list. ‘Robert Bobb’s mission is to shut down the school district. He gets paid by various charter interests. It’s a terrible situation,’ said Elena Herrada, an appointed member of the Detroit Public School Board whose district includes CFA. She attended the April 15 sit-in. Because the situation is so dire in hundreds of school districts across the country, students are standing up, raising their voices, organizing and finding inspiration from each other’s actions. […]
“Detroit is the epicenter of this struggle, because if it can be done in Detroit, it can be done in every other major city,” said Herrada. “The national media has created a narrative that we can’t govern ourselves. We don’t deserve to be in charge of our own resources.”
Herrada, who is running for the school board, said government officials might cancel upcoming elections, claiming they’re too expensive.
“People are so angry. It’s becoming an act of resistance to read. There are eight-mile areas of Detroit without a school. We no longer have the right to education. There is no transportation. It’s not safe for kids to walk. I wouldn’t let my kids walk to school,” she said. “We have to continue the battle. There are a lot of good people fighting this battle in Detroit. People are on the front lines. They’ve become really worried about where we’re headed.”
Because the situation is so dire in hundreds of school districts across the country, students are standing up, raising their voices, organizing and finding inspiration from each other’s actions.
Earlier this week, we reported on a new project sponsored by the Tea Party Patriots to pressure public schools into teaching the Constitution using its favored, if dubious, curriculum. Well, the news isn’t going over well in some quarters. […]
Friday morning, Doug Kendall, the president of the Constitutional Accountability Center, a liberal-leaning think tank and public interest law firm, blasted out a press release urging educators to keep the tea partiers out of their schools. He said:
I defy the Tea Party Patriots to find one credible historian willing to support their view of the Constitution’s history. Before the Tea Party gets to go into school and teach our children about the Constitution, they need to find a tenured professor on the history faculty on one of any of the 50 highest-rated universities in the United States who will vouch for the accuracy of their teachings. To qualify to teach America’s children about the Constitution you need to do more than dress up like James Madison.
The Tea Party Patriots are peddling constitutional gobbledygook masquerading as history. Yet whether it is Tea Party organizations misrepresenting American history, or Tea Party politicians like Rep. Michele Bachmann not knowing what state the battles of Lexington and Concord were fought in, the Tea Party has utterly disqualified itself from serious discussion of our Constitution’s text and history. America’s school boards must flatly reject the Tea Party Patriots’ attempts to muscle their bad history into our children’s classrooms.
On Tuesday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a sweeping 104-page opinion that years of ‘unchecked incompetence’ at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) was directly responsible for an epidemic of suicides and lengthy delays in processing disability benefits for war veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that began while George W. Bush was in office and has continues.
Yesterday, President Obama said he wanted to extend FBI director Bob Mueller’s term for another two years, on top of the 10 Mueller has already served. It’s not only the first time since Hoover that an Bureau director has been asked to stay on. It makes Mueller the only major public official to have kept his job through the entire “War on Terror” era.
Mueller remains largely unknown to the general public. He doesn’t give many any interviews to the press, and even some of the people who have worked with him for years say they don’t know him particularly well.
Washingtonian magazine editor Garret Graff is the exception. He has interviewed Mueller at least a half-dozen times, and spent more than a thousand hours speaking to the director, his top aides and 180 current and former officials at the FBI, White House, Justice Department, CIA, NYPD and the Pentagon. These interviews form the heart of Graff’s new book, The Threat Matrix: The FBI at War in the Age of Global Terror.
We talked to Graff about the director’s longevity, Osama bin Laden’s thumb drives, the Bureau’s allergy to technology and the lamest ultimatum by a wannabe terrorist ever.
Writing about Newt Gingrich‘s presidential bid on the New York Times’ Caucus blog (5/10/11), Matt Bai seems to confuse GOP rhetoric for fact as he suggest that, when it comes to marriage vows, Republicans are generally known for walking the line:
Mr. Gingrich, a bit of a rogue in his personal life, has never been a favorite of his party’s powerful social conservatives, who tend to think of scandalous affairs as the purview of Democrats, and maybe Rudy Giuliani.
In order to maintain a tired and inaccurate cliché, Bai has to have forgotten John McCain, Henry Hyde, David Vitter, Larry Craig, John Ensign, Mark Sanford and Tom Delay, just to name some of the most prominent married Republicans who have had scandalous affairs. (See Extra!, 1/09.)
This is the sort of off kilter, numbingly conventional analysis we have come to expect from the Times political writer who routinely replaces reality with cockeyed conventional wisdom on deficits, Social Security, and the need for the Democratic Party to move to the right, to name just a few.
I saw a press release yesterday announcing that Rep. Jim McDermott (D.-Wash) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I.-Vt.) were introducing a single-payer healthcare bill in both houses of Congress. Unless there was a drastic change in the corporate media, this news wasn’t going to be, well, news.
And it hasn’t been so far. There were mentions in independent outlets like Democracy Now!, GritTV and the Nation. But in the corporate media, next to nothing– except for one brief mention on CNN, thanks to Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel:
VANDEN HEUVEL: The progressive caucus, which put out a people’s budget which is fair, did not get attention because the media slighted it and marginalized it. That is a mainstream budget.
SPITZER: One second, you’ll get your turn.
VANDEN HEUVEL: No, but I do think, when Bernie Sanders and McDermott put forth a Medicare-for-all, that is a majority position.
The single-payer bill and the People’s Budget will likely suffer the same media fate–marginalized by the Beltway elites, despite the fact that they represent policies that are broadly popular.
Maybe media would behave differently if someone as serious, wonky and handsome as Paul Ryan was holding the press conference.
It’s bad enough that corporate media are having such an ill-informed debate about whether torturing some prisoners helped find Osama bin Laden. But considering whom the media invite to this debate, it’s probably not a surprise. Take yesterday’s Sunday shows (please!).
On NBC‘s Meet the Press, Obama national security adviser Thomas Donilon basically refused to take a definitive position on torture, waterboarding and intelligence. “No single piece of intelligence led to this,” was his line. They followed up with a segment with former CIA head Michael Hayden and Rudy Giuliani, both of whom basically endorsed the idea that torture worked.
On ABC‘s This Week, torture advocate Liz Cheney was on the roundtable to say exactly what you’d expect. (“That debate is over. It worked. It got the intelligence. It wasn’t torture. It was legal.”) This came after host Christiane Amanpour seemed to overstate the White House’s view, saying that that Obama officials have admitted that waterboarding “did, in fact, yield fruitful information in the hunt for Osama bin Laden.”
But give ABC credit for having a critic of torture on their show. Former Washington Post reporter Tom Ricks said this:
I never thought I’d live in a country where we would debate whether we should endorse torture as an official policy. Was some information obtained through torture? Probably yeah. Could it have been obtained through more professional methods the intelligence professionals recommended? Almost certainly yes. We could have gotten it sooner and better.
Also, what we know is that the use of torture became the prime recruiting tool for Al Qaida and for insurgents in Iraq, and so directly resulted in the death of American troops.
Now this is brutal: The Democratic National Committee, which has been having a lot of fun with Mitt Romney’s tribulations, is set to go out to its list with a video compilation of pundits and commentators hammering Mitt over yesterday’s health care speech. But the kicker is that all the footage compiled by the DNC comes from Fox News:
And then there’s this—how great! God bless these kids.
An Email I got today from Jim Messina (Obama’s 2012 campaign manager):
I spent this week moving boxes and getting set up in our new campaign headquarters in Chicago, but something happened in Washington that I want to make sure you know about.
The CEOs from the five major oil companies — which together booked $36 billion in profits in the first quarter of 2011 alone — went to the Senate on Thursday to try to justify the $4 billion in tax giveaways they’re receiving this year.
It’s a head-smackingly obvious example of how broken Washington is that there’s even a question about this. These companies don’t need and don’t deserve taxpayer money — especially with a budget deficit to close and gas prices at or near record highs.
Even worse is the fact that when the Senate tries to strip these oil company giveaways, it’s likely that a minority of senators will block a vote from happening. And even if the Senate manages to pass a bill eliminating the giveaways, there’s little chance it will be brought up for a vote in the House.
Here’s why: These five companies are expert manipulators of the money-for-influence game in Washington that the President is working to change. It’s simple math — they spent more than $145 million last year on nearly 800 lobbyists whose job is to defeat bills like this one. The $4 billion they’ll likely get to keep as a result represents a 2,700% return on their investment.
I’d like to be able to say with certainty that you can do something to help pass this bill, but the fact is that at this stage we may not be able to affect the outcome of next week’s vote.
What we can do is build a campaign that will keep a spotlight on issues like this and the fundamental reasons why Washington doesn’t work.
Our campaign doesn’t take money from Washington lobbyists or special interest PACs. This organization will be a living example of doing politics a different way — from the bottom up; of, by, and for ordinary people.
That example and the results we achieve on Election Day are the biggest blows we can strike against a dysfunctional system and the distorted outcomes it creates.
But we have to start building right now. Add your name to our call for a new kind of politics today:
While the oil industry has been earning billions in profits, gas prices have surpassed $4 a gallon in some parts of the country.
As the President has said, “Instead of subsidizing yesterday’s energy sources, we need to invest in tomorrow’s.”
But on Thursday, one of the CEOs went so far as to say that cutting oil giveaways would be “un-American.”
Right now, we’re building a grassroots campaign that’s led and funded by people like you. We’re opening up offices not just in Chicago but all over the place, and putting organizers on the ground in communities across the country.
So if you’re frustrated by the way business gets done in Washington, I’m asking you now to channel that feeling into building a massive grassroots organization to change it. Add your name to join our campaign to change Washington:
Obama for America
This campaign isn’t funded by lobbyists or corporate interests. We rely on donations from people like you. Please donate $5 today.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) will give the commencement address at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. this weekend. Ahead of the visit, dozens of faculty members from the school and other other Catholic universities are writing to Boehner — who is himself an observant Catholic — challenging his willingness to “gut” social programs while protecting “new tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy.” “Mr. Speaker, your voting record is at variance from one of the Church’s most ancient moral teachings” of caring for the poor, they write:
Your record in support of legislation to address the desperate needs of the poor is among the worst in Congress. This fundamental concern should have great urgency for Catholic policy makers. Yet, even now, you work in opposition to it.
The 2012 budget you shepherded to passage in the House of Representatives guts long-established protections for the most vulnerable members of society. It is particularly cruel to pregnant women and children, gutting Maternal and Child Health grants and slashing $500 million from the highly successful Women Infants and Children nutrition program. When they graduate from WIC at age 5, these children will face a 20% cut in food stamps. The House budget radically cuts Medicaid and effectively ends Medicare. It invokes the deficit to justify visiting such hardship upon the vulnerable, while it carves out $3 trillion in new tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy.
The letter goes on to cite a separate letter from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, written last month, which also raised moral issues with the GOP budget. “A just framework for future budgets cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons,” the bishops wrote, adding:
Converting Medicare into a voucher program could shift rising health care costs to vulnerable seniors and those who are poor without controlling these costs. We also fear the human and social costs of substantial cuts to programs that serve families working to escape poverty, especially food and nutrition, child development and education, and affordable housing.
Indeed, according to official Vatican doctrine, “The responsibility for attaining the common good, besides falling to individual persons, belongs also to the State.” “Tax revenues and public spending take on crucial economic importance,” the Vatican guidance continues, because “[j]ust, efficient and effective public financing will have very positive effects.”
“Speaker Boehner’s budget eviscerates vital programs that protect the poor, the elderly, the homeless and at-risk pregnant women and children. This is not pro-life,” Stephen Schneck, Director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at Catholic and a signatory of the letter, said in press release. The Church has also voiced support for labor unions.
As Faith in Public Life notes, “in contrast to the Catholic right’s effort to intimidate Notre Dame into withdrawing its commencement invitation to President Obama, this letter does NOT call on the university to disinvite Boehner or ask Boehner to cancel.”
Update In response, Boehner’s spokesperson told the New York Times that Boehner’s speech is “personal” and “non-political.” He did not address the scholars’ argument.
The rapid rise of the Tea Party and its burgeoning alliance with the Religious Right are further proof of the staying power of theocratic movements in American politics.
Under Boehner’s leadership, a new flock of legislators who poured into Congress in January in the wake of November’s elections is intent on winning this war. You might say they’re busy unleashing a new crusade — although sometimes under the radar. Social issues, which very few voters identified as a chief concern during the elections, are suddenly all the rage again.
It’s not exactly what Americans thought they were getting. In November, polls showed great uneasiness over a high unemployment rate and a shaky economic outlook. Bolstered by legions of Tea Party activists who exploited fears over these issues, conservatives swept to victory in November, capturing not only the House of Representatives but many governorships and state legislatures as well.
Since then, changes in economic policy remain at a stalemate. The federal government limps along, funded by a series of temporary funding measures. “Culture war” issues, though, are enjoying a resurgence.
Interestingly, Religious Right groups are increasingly adopting Tea Party-style rhetoric about budget deficits as they push a familiar social agenda. A fight over tax funding for Planned Parenthood, which receives about $300 million a year to provide health services (such as cancer screenings) and family planning for the poor, was framed as a cost-saving measure. […]
Boehner and his congressional allies labored to appease the Religious Right in other ways. When President Barack Obama announced that the U.S. Justice Department would no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in court, Religious Right groups went ballistic. Some even asserted (incorrectly) that the Justice Department was required to defend the 1996 statute, which seeks to block same-sex marriage by defining marriage as an institution between one man and one woman.
Religious Right leaders are even jumping into issues that have traditionally been outside their purview. Several groups are now regularly sending messages demanding a reduction in federal spending to deal with the deficit. And when laws curbing the power of unions appeared in Ohio, Wisconsin, Indiana and other states, Religious Right organizations quickly joined the crusade.
Most likely, the Religious Right is entering a new phase of political activity. By expanding its operations to include issues such as the deficit and unions, organizations like the FRC, the Alliance Defense Fund, the American Family Association (AFA) and others hope to forge an alliance with the Tea Party and create a right-wing phalanx so powerful no one can stand against it.
The Religious Right’s attempts to woo the Tea Party haven’t been subtle. Recent FRC conferences have included special sessions on how to work with Tea Party activists and have included self-appointed Tea Party leaders.
Not all supporters of the Tea Party are religious conservatives. Some want the focus to remain strictly on economic issues. But a February analysis issued by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found significant overlap between the movement and the Religious Right.
But the Pew analysis also showed that while many Tea Party supporters hold views in synch with the Religious Right, they were not necessarily members of groups like FRC, ADF and AFA. Nevertheless, Religious Right leaders clearly see the Tea Party as fertile ground for growth. […]
After Obama’s election, some political commentators pronounced the Religious Right fatally weakened. Some even talked about the election of Obama as ushering in a permanent political realignment in favor of more progressive politics.
Observers at Americans United for Separation of Church and State were skeptical of these claims. In fact, they had heard them before. In 1992, similar claims were made after the election of Bill Clinton to the presidency.
Two years later, the Religious Right came roaring back with the Republican triumph in the mid-term elections. Supposedly dead social issues became prominent again; as a sop to the Religious Right, Congress even spent several years hashing out a school prayer amendment.
“The mistake some people make is assuming that the Religious Right’s fortunes hinge on a single election,” said Barry W. Lynn, AU executive director. “But American politics doesn’t work that way. The Religious Right is in this for the long haul. These groups aren’t simply going to pack up and go home because they lose an election.”
Indeed, the opposite is true. The election of Obama, whom the Religious Right loathes, energized many theocratic organizations. It gave them a highly visible target to oppose, leading to new activism and a spike in fund-raising.
Recently, several analysts have pointed out that the Religious Right — a movement anchored by several organizations that collectively raise nearly $1 billion every year — is now a permanent fixture on the American political scene.
Writing in the online journal Salon, journalist Steve Kornacki pointed out that there was a time when Republican presidential hopefuls didn’t have to kowtow to Christian fundamentalists — but it’s gone.
That’s the biggest mystery in GOP nomination politics right now. After all, the current field includes only Pawlenty and Mitt Romney as plausible nominees, and Romney remains highly suspect among many important Republican groups because of his past positions on a wide range of issues — most seriously, in my view, on abortion-related policy. And that’s on top of the concern that his religion will cause problems with some voters.
Pawlenty, however, has no major liabilities. Oh, he used to accept scientific facts on climate change and a market-based plan to deal with it, and that’s an unacceptable position these days…but virtually every Republican politician has similar troubles on that issue, and Pawlenty has dealt with it pretty well. More to the point, Pawlenty was according to all reports a finalist for vice president in 2008, and I don’t recall any important GOP or movement conservative groups objecting. So why isn’t Pawlenty pulling away?
Perhaps he is, and we just don’t realize it yet. That’s the Dukakis analogy. Looking at Nate Silver’s data, Mike Dukakis was an apparent longshot based on early polling, sitting at about 8%. At this point in the 1988 process, Democrats were generally unenthusiastic about the field, distracted by implausible nominees (most notably, Jesse Jackson), and looking for a late entry to save them. Dukakis just rolled along, doing the things that candidates need to be doing, and by the time the actual voting came along he basically had the thing locked up, even though it took a while to get it done.
And yet…while Dukakis was liked well enough, he never inspired a whole lot of enthusiasm among Democrats. Jesse Jackson, yes. Mario Cuomo, who never ran, yes. But Dukakis was acceptable. Perfectly fine. Certainly would do. Just not someone who set anyone on fire, the way that even losers like Gary Hart in 1984 or Ted Kennedy in 1980 had done. Nor did Dukakis have intensely loyal groups in his corner, as Walter Mondale in 1984 or Jimmy Carter in 1980 had.
To be sure, the Pawlenty-Dukakas analogy isn’t perfect, for a variety of reasons. And it’s certainly possible, as Steve Kornacki speculates in an excellent piece on Romney, that for whatever reasons Republican elites just haven’t taken to Pawlenty. But it seems equally possible that they sort of realize that’s where things are headed, but don’t see any reason to hurry to get there. Maybe they’re hoping that someone more exciting will come along. But if not, Tim Pawlenty will still be there.
Will Wednesday’s release of Obama’s long-form birth certificate put an end to the birther myth?
The odds aren’t good. The problem is that people can be extremely resistant to unwelcome factual information…
Given how much evidence is already available, it’s hard to see why a long-form birth certificate would suddenly change the minds of people who are predisposed to believe in the myth. The hardcore are already shifting to new rationales for questioning Obama’s right to hold office and deconstructing the PDF released by the White House for supposed evidence of forgery.
As expected, the fringe continues to search for rationales to discredit the birth certificate — the birther movement isn’t going away. However, the Washington Post released a poll conducted after the birth certificate’s release (but before news of Obama bin Laden’s killing was released) showing that that birther beliefs dropped by half compared to April 2010:
I’ve been waiting to see if any other polls were conducted, but it looks like the Post is the only media outlet that polled on this issue. Since bin Laden’s killing created a bounce that will affect responses to questions about Obama for a while, it’s probably the only clean pre-/post-comparison of birther beliefs that we’re going to get.
So why was this correction so effective when others tend to fail? (PDF) The answers aren’t entirely clear yet, but here are some initial thoughts. First, the birth certificate’s release was an unusually definitive debunking that became a major news event, so there was saturation coverage of some very strong corrective information. Second, no prominent elites on the right contested the validity of the birth certificate, which meant that coverage of its release was almost entirely one-sided. Finally, it’s possible that support for the myth was soft because poll respondents didn’t really believe it but were using poll questions about Obama’s religion and place of birth as a way to express disapproval (as some commentators and pollsters have argued).
Does this mean that people’s minds can be changed? Yes (though I will be curious to see if these effects hold over time). In cases where the first and second conditions described above hold (very strong corrective information, saturation coverage, no elite controversy), it is possible to convince people who aren’t hardcore believers and conspiracy theorists. However, these conditions rarely materialize for prominent political misperceptions, which tend to be controversial among elites and harder to definitively debunk.
To underscore why misperceptions are so difficult to correct, consider the case of the Duelfer Report, a comprehensive CIA-commissioned report released in September 2004 which found no evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction or an active weapons of mass destruction program. Even though the release of the report was a major news story confirming that Iraq did not have WMD, no one could not prove they hadn’t been hidden, moved to Syria, etc. and conservatives continued to dispute the claim. As a result, half of Americans were still telling pollsters that Iraq had WMDs as late as 2006.
In short, the release of the birth certificate is something of a best-case scenario for misperceptions. The Post poll results are a victory to be celebrated, but we should be cautious about extrapolating from this case to other, more stubborn myths.
Update 5/13 2:03 PM: Gallup just released a poll conducted May 5-8 (after bin Laden’s killing) confirming that birther beliefs were cut roughly in half:
As in the Post’s poll, Gallup found that the decline was most significant among Republicans (who were most likely to endorse the claim before the release of the birth certificate):
These results are an encouraging sign that the effects of the birth certificate’s release are persisting, though we should be cautious given that the Gallup poll was conducted after bin Laden’s death.
Thirty-four percent don’t know enough about the issue to say
Traveling through a rural part of the U.S. state of Georgia recently, Charles Seabrook heard a high-pitched whirring so loud he thought the engine of his pickup truck was overheating.
Poignant: It Gets Better: West Valley College
From fools honoring Ted Nugent one day and then railing against the thuggism of Common the next, to those who believe themselves the authority on what is and isn’t poetry, I really believe Cornelius Eady told us all we needed to know about this some years ago:
Why Do So Few Blacks Study Creative Writing?
Always the same, sweet hurt,
The understanding that settles in the eyes
Sooner or later, at the end of class,
In the silence pooling in the room.
Sooner or later it comes to this,
You stand face to face with your
Younger face and you have to answer
A student, a young woman this time,
And you’re alone in the class room
Or in your office, a day or so later,
And she has to know, if all music
Begins equal, why this poem of hers
Needed a passport, a glossary,
A disclaimer. It was as if I were…
What? Talking for the first time?
Giving yourself up? Away?
There are worlds, and there are worlds,
She reminds you. She needs to know
What’s wrong with me? and you want
To crowbar or spade her hurt
To the air. You want photosynthesis
To break it down to an organic language.
You want to shake I hear you
Into her ear, armor her life
With permission. Really, what
Can I say? That if she chooses
To remain here the term
Neighborhood will always have
A foreign stress, that there
Will always be the moment
The small, hard details
Of your life will be made
To circle their wagons?
I tell everybody that I am, at my core, a failed rapper. But I am also a failed djimbe drummer. And perhaps most importantly, I am a failed poet. Eons ago when I thought I was destined for Iowa, this piece was essential to me. Ultimately, it wasn’t the lack of a glossary that doomed me, it was lack of talent. Indeed, living in Washington, and being around Howard, I had the luxury of knowing a lot of African-American poets who were simply better. But still, so much of this was true of what I saw in my earliest workshops.
And it’s true of what we see in a certain sector of our country–There are worlds and there are worlds. And its true of our president being made to present his papers–The small hard details/Of Your life will be made/To circle their wagons.
But it isn’t true of the country as a whole. As surely as I spent the week laughing at Fox News, laughing at Karl Rove, laughing at what “ain’t poetry,” I know that I was not laughing alone. Hip-hop helped make that so.
The culture wars are over. We win.
A group of Christian activists believe the apocalypse is May 21. We look at the evidence, and the man behind it
Though mainstream churches reject the the notion that doomsday can be predicted by any man, fringe scholars continue to work feverishly pinpointing the moment of the final, divine revelation. And one such man — 89-year-old radio host Harold Camping — has been at the game for decades.
In the early ’90s, Camping published a book titled “1994?,” which claimed judgment day would arrive in September of that year. When confronted with such a staggering anticlimax — the world, after all, kept on spinning — Camping chose not to be discouraged, but to learn from his mistakes. (He hadn’t considered the Book of Jeremiah, he says.) A civil engineer by trade, Camping went back to the drawing board and continued to crunch the numbers, before arriving at the adamant determination that Rapture would come on May 21, 2011. He began to spread the word through his broadcasting network, Family Radio, in 2009, and quickly built up a fervid following.
But what, exactly, is his argument? We’ve compiled an explainer below with all the information you’ll need to prepare for May 21.
What happens during and after the Rapture?
In a nutshell: The worthy dead will first rise up to heaven, followed shortly thereafter by about 200 million faithful followers saved by God. Those left behind will endure several months of ghastly torment. And what remains of our fair Earth will swiftly careen toward its ultimate destruction — which will occur in October.
According to one advocate, Brian Haubert, who was interviewed for a recent article published by NPR:
On May 21, “starting in the Pacific Rim at around the 6 p.m. local time hour, in each time zone, there will be a great earthquake, such as has never been in the history of the Earth,” he says. The true Christian believers — he hopes he’s one of them — will be “raptured”: They’ll fly upward to heaven. And for the rest?
“It’s just the horror of horror stories,” he says, “and on top of all that, there’s no more salvation at that point. And then the Bible says it will be 153 days later that the entire universe and planet Earth will be destroyed forever.”
Why does Camping believe the end is nigh?
Camping and his affiliates present at least three explanations — what he refers to as “infallible, absolute proofs” — for May 21 being the day.
- It’s the anniversary of Noah’s Flood: A great deal of effort has been made by biblical literalists over the years to identify the exact chronology of the events dictated in the Old Testament. Some scholars, including Camping, adhere to the theory that the Biblical Flood took place on May 21 in the year 4,990 B.C. Then, in Genesis, God told Noah seven days before the Flood to warn people of the impending cataclysm. And Camping posits that this figure, seven days, holds greater significance than meets the eye. According to the biblical passage 2 Peter 3:8, “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” Therefore, argues Camping, Rapture should occur 7,000 years after the Flood. And the 7,000th anniversary of the biblical deluge, by his math, falls on May 21, 2011.
- It’s the anniversary of Creation … sort of: Another piece of evidence — explained by Family Radio affiliate eBibleFellowship — suggests that the world began in 11,013 B.C., and its 13,000th anniversary came and went in 1988. During that year, apparently on May 21, the end of the “church age” came to pass. Then, a 23-year time of “tribulation” began, during which Satan claimed dominion over all the world’s churches. (Camping also supports this notion. He claims that the number “23” — far from just being a poorly received Jim Carrey film — also represents “destruction” in biblical symbology.) The end of this particular period of cosmological strife is said to fall on May 21, 2011.
- Divine Numerology: This elaborate line of reasoning first argues that Jesus Christ was killed on April 1 in the year 33 A.D. Using that date, the crucifixion would have occurred exactly 1,978 years and 51 days — or 722,500 days — before May 21, 2011. It turns out that 722,500 is also the product of an equation — (5 x 10 x 17)^2 — that includes three different numbers of significance, according to Camping. Five means “atonement.” Ten indicates “completeness.”And 17 signifies “heaven.” Thus: Armageddon.
Don’t past failures at predicting the end of the world give May 21sters some pause?
According to MSNBC:
“It would be like telling the Wright Brothers that every other attempt to fly has failed, so you shouldn’t even try,” said Chris McCann, who works with eBibleFellowship, one of the groups spreading the message.
What happens if the world doesn’t end?
That’s a question proponents claim they won’t even ponder. (To do so would be to doubt biblical truth and threaten their chances at Rapture, according to at least one telling.) In fact, many who were interviewed by NPR — one woman who dropped out of medical school; a couple who stand to run out of savings on May 21 — claim they have no backup plan. While most would say these people are in for a rude awakening, that’s not discouraging them in their faith. Only May 21 will tell.
AND IN OTHER NEWS…
I love this kid. He made it from foam board. Power Loader Costume and Alien Queen Statue
I love this kid too: Rescued Baby Hummingbird
Amazing Animatronics by John Nolan
For the heck of it—something for most everyone: Boobies and Kittens
If this won’t get us off our butts I don’t know what will. As they say, if we’re not part of the solution we really are part of the problem. GREAT video:
Sat May 21st 2011
TEACH THE BANKS A LESSON
Saturday May 21st 11 AM
CHASE Bank 1919 North 45th Street, Seattle, WA 98103 (Corner of N. 45th St & Meridian Ave N.)
Eight separate marches converged on Wall Street. The march revolved around feverish community right down to how it was organized:
Instead of gathering to listen to big-name speakers at a main stage, activists from a broad swath of groups traveled the crowd holding small-scale teach-ins and performing street theater, explaining the services at stake and how taxes really work to each other. Stilt-walkers, drum corps, and musical accompaniment turned interludes into impromptu dance breaks.
“This budget crisis would be over if the banks had used the bailout money to help the people,” said Kevin Scrobola of Communications Workers Local 1103. “Now we’re being asked to pay the price for the rich? I don’t think so!”
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
The excessive increase of anything causes a reaction in the opposite direction. ~ Plato